Miracles on the Mandalay

Mandalay SwampFor the past four days, I’ve been working with a good friend on her documentary, and it’s been a great experience.  She first found me in 2008 when doing research for her award-winning short documentary, “Tide of Tears”, about the collapse of the Cajun Coast. That was the first time I had ever taken out a film producer and film crew, and it was great experience.  We became friends and have remained so ever since.    

This weekend was a follow-up to the short documentary, featuring some of the same characters, areas, and issues which were addressed in her original film.  This time, she’s working on a full-length documentary, and I can’t wait to see the final product.  Of course, I regret that I’m not at liberty to give any more details than these about the film, which is slated to be released by April 2015.

My job was to tote around all the boxes of camera gear for Guy, the photographer, in my boat.  To take Guy out into the marsh to photograph their “subject”, I had to enlist another shallow-draft mudboat.  Since my mudboat is broken, I asked one of Termite’s friends if he could help us out.  Turns out Termite’s friend, J.B. had been restoring his grandfather’s old mudboat to its previous glory and was ready to be of assistance.

The first morning, our two boats left from the Falgout Canal Marina in Theriot, headed up Minor’s Canal, to meet up with a third boat which had launched at Canon’s Landing in Houma, LA.  As we turned into Minor’s Canal, fog enveloped us almost immediately.  The farther north we went, the thicker the fog became.  It was just safe enough to navigate through, and we did so with great caution.

Stephanie fretted a little that the fog would cause them to lose valuable filming time, a big concern for her.  But as we approached the first cypress of the Mandalay Swamp, the fog just vanished, even though we could still see it looming over the water behind us.  We call that Miracle Number One.

Since the third boat had not arrived yet, we bowed up to the bank and waited.  While we waited, I asked J.B. if he knew Mr. Vernon, the man they would be filming that day. He thought a minute before answering in the negative.  Shortly afterwards, I heard a mudboat coming from the north.  It was Mr. Vernon (our subject for the day) in his mudboat and Guy, the photographer.

As they got close to us, a big smile spread across J.B.’s face, as he yelled out to Mr. Vernon, “Hey Yap!  How you doing?”

Mr. Vernon shouted back, “Man!  I’d know that old mudboat anywhere.  I hunted out of that boat with your grandpa many a day.  And I haven’t seen you since you were just a little boy!”

Turns out that Yap (Mr. Vernon) and J.B.’s grandpa were big buddies back in the day and had spent years hunting and fishing together.  I don’t know who was happier about that serendipitous reunion, but I do know that it made for a memorable day for those two.

What makes this story even more heart-warming and significant is that Mr. Vernon’s youngest son passed away last year, and J.B.’s grandfather passed away a couple years ago. Fate used Stephanie, her film, and me to bring these two men together in such an amazing way, and J.B. couldn’t wait to get back home and tell his daddy who he got to hang out with all day long.  We call that Miracle Number Two.

Mandalay Swamp  Just so happens this was a big day for Guy, because this trip was the maiden launch of his new “video drone”.  Although he had practiced with it a couple of times, he was confident that he would get some fantastic footage with it.  He flew it out over the swamp, controlling it remotely, when one of the propellers hit a clump of Spanish moss, causing it to drop straight down into the water below.  What do you think Guy did?

As if he had been raised in the swamp, he stripped down to this birthday suit, slipped in the water and retrieved the drone.  Back at Camp Dularge, he put the little memory card into his laptop and we watched some of the most amazing aerial footage.  Then, he took apart the drone, dried it out overnight, and the next morning it powered up.  Amazing!  We call this Miracle Number Three.

The only bad part is that the little GoPro camera attached to the drone wasn’t so lucky. Before you say (as I did) that they make waterproof casings for those tiny cameras, this camera was mounted to a gimbal, which cannot accommodate the waterproof housing.

Mandalay SwampY’all know I love being on the water, and while my services weren’t needed much of the time, being on standby gave me the opportunity to do what I really love; which is hang out in the swamp, listen to the sounds, observe the bugs, plant life, and birds and photograph them and think about the stories I would share with you.  One of those photos is of the “Dancing Egret” above.

Mandalay SwampAnother is this photo of a dedicated yellow-crowned night heron.  Mr. Vernon pointed out a pair of them on a branch.  One of them skittered away when we approached, but this one, I’m assuming the mother, would not leave the nest.  Even though I got rather close to get this shot, she was NOT leaving her post.

Mandalay SwampAbove is a photo of the freshwater marsh out in the Mandalay area.  Mr. Vernon helps to keep this marsh free of pesky nutria during the hunting season.  Rumor has it that he really did his part for marsh protection this past season by taking out thousands of the destructive rodents.  As you may know, they eat the roots of the marsh grass and have caused hundreds of thousands of acres of wetland loss since they escaped Mr. McIlhenny’s cages back in the 1940s. (Yes, that’s the Tabasco family name.)

Miracles on the MandalayAbove is the award-winning photog, Guy.  He is hard at work getting some closeups in a floating marsh.  I took lots of other photos I’d like to share with you, but the best of those will have to wait for another day and another post.

Thanks for coming along with me on this chapter in the life of BW.  It was great working with Stephanie and Guy and watching them work their film magic together.  I will be sure and let you know when the documentary is released and all the awards it wins!  I’m happy to have played a small part in its production.

For the marsh,


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  1. Nice we got pelicans at lake and saw 9 blue herons all in small area this am. Very rare to see.

  2. Just when I think I’m not missing LA you post this! There’s nothing like springtime in that part of the world!

    1. Haven’t seen many migratory birds this year, and I walked my favorite part of the Grand Isle Chenier Monday. Didn’t see any little birds (and it was raining) but did see something I’ve never seen before . . . an entire flock of green herons flitting about in the tops of the oak trees! But wait! Guess what I finally saw up in the Mandalay? I kept hearing northern parulas everywhere we would stop, so while standing by at one point, I pulled out my binoculars (the ones you gave me) and talked to the birds asking them to please come closer and show themselves to me, and guess what? THEY DID!!! I finally got to see those beautiful little things! And I saw more than one!!! Every time I go into the Mauvais Swamp, I hear one or two and have never been able to spot them. It took sitting in a canal in the Mandalay to get to finally view them! They are so tiny and so pretty!

  3. What @Kim said…LOL Beautiful shots – keep wanting to visit Mandalay and haven’t made it yet.
    Interesting that ye decided to boat there – sounds like a grand adventure all around!

    1. The area is beautiful indeed but not a whole lot one can see from the canals, and we’re not allowed to motor into the refuge . . . but there are still a few cypress along the canals . . . . and we saw some La. iris blooming.

  4. Beautiful photos. We took the round about way home yesterday evening across Lake Ray Hubbard and the water was really blue and white capping. The gulls were as thick as thieves in places and with the wind gusting, it was amazing to watch them just glide.

    And the wildflowers! Blue bonnets, Indian Paint Brushes, clover and some I have never seen before were/are in full bloom. And I forgot my camera of course.

    1. Cammy, I’m glad to know there still are some flowers! Down here on the coast we don’t see much, and I nearly missed them completely this year. Also – I didn’t realize there was a Lake Ray Hubbard. Shows you what I know about the Dallas/Ft.Worth area. The first thing that popped to mind was Ray Wylie Hubbard. Uh – not the same thing. At least I don’t think so. I do love me some Ray Wylie, although he can be a bit – funny in a way not everyone appreciates. Heck of a guitar player, though.

      1. I love me some Ray Wyle and the crappie videos out of that lake . I think.

        HBD 2 ME x3… GO AWAY STUPID SNOW… Freaking dog bowl is froze up… Baby Jesus It Be April… I think the 2nd line forms here…. HBD 2 ME….

        If you mix chemo, mango orange juice, morphine etc life gets interesting.

        Ari sez Hi.

          1. Just heard the Winter Pig song the other day.

            Snow flakes still falling but at least now they are melting.

  5. BW those photos are amazing. We went from 78 this morning to 48 a while ago. There’s some talk of setting record lows tonight. The only good thing I can think of is that, if it doesn’t freeze, it will slow down the fading of the flowers.

    Can’t wait to hear what you’re up to!

  6. very nice rewrite. I hung out with a lot of Yap types in my misspent childhood. It was a blast if your Mom did not find out.

  7. No, I didn’t but I’m not signed up for notifications. I can’t play around online from work, except during my short lunch break. I just try to get here on weekends, when I have more time.

    I’m just now catching up with your Mandalay adventures. Lovely photos and interesting posts, as usual. I always enjoy the local scenery.

    What a marvelous story about J.B. meeting up with his granddad’s old buddy, Mr. ‘Yap’ Vernon. Isn’t it great when things like that happen?

    1. Yes it absolutely is great when things like that happen! I fear, though, in this very materialistic and technologic world, that folks often miss simple serendipitous events like this that are really monumental! They miss the meaning, the intent, the purpose and don’t see everything that had to happen for something like this to take place. As a matter of fact, J.B. was the fourth person I asked to help me that day, and he was going out of town. When I got really desperate, I called him again and said, “How about a tank of gas and some cash?” He said, “Let me make one phone call and I’m there!” See? It was meant to be for him to help us out that day and meet up with his grandfather’s old hunting and fishing buddy, and that to me is just pretty dog gone cool!

  8. I got the notification yesterday about a new post. I’m just now going through emails because we were out of town. AS you know, I have no Internet service when we’re in Ms.